Five HBCUs Combat Erasure By Preserving Architectural Legacy

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund announced more than $650,000 in grant awards to five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as a part of its HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative. The program empowers HBCUs with resources to protect, preserve, and leverage their historic campuses, buildings, and landscapes, ensuring these symbols of African American excellence and American achievement are preserved to inspire and educate future generations. The initiative offers two kinds of grants, a $150,000 grant for the development of campus-wide cultural stewardship plans or a $60,000 planning grant to help preserve an individual historic building on or associated with an HBCU campus.

These plans are intended to guide the grantees as they define preservation solutions to existing architectural or landscaping challenges and to identify a course of action that helps conserve their historic resources. The plans will also assist the HBCUs as they engage in capital campaigns and leverage funding and resources to restore and rehabilitate campus facilities.

The program, launched by the National Trust’s Action Fund in 2020, is a partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for Humanities, Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the Executive Leadership Council. The current program is a $3.2 million initiative that offers the HBCUs funding but also leverages the Trust’s 70 years of experience and expertise to help guide the restoration and preservation process at each college or university. In total, the National Trust’s Action Fund has partnered with 13 HBCUs and funded 6 campus-wide and 7 individual-building plans to date.

“These grants are significant in light of the recent threat to HBCU campuses,” said Brent Leggs, senior vice president and executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust. “Preservation is the strategic counterpoint to centuries of erasure, and it underscores the critical nature of the African American contribution to our nation. Without the doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals HCBUs have produced, the American story would not be the same. The Action Fund’s work to preserve the legacies of intellect, activism, and enlightenment on these campuses will inspire future generations of all Americans to believe that, despite the challenge, they too can overcome.”

This year’s HBCU awardees are:

  • Florida A&M University (Tallahassee, Florida) to develop a campus-wide stewardship plan for its 422 acre campus (1887);
  • Johnson C. Smith University (Charlotte, North Carolina) to develop a preservation plan for its Historic Quad (1867);
  • Rust College (Holly Springs, Mississippi) to develop a campus-wide stewardship plan for its campus (1866);
  • Shaw University (Raleigh, North Carolina) to develop a campus-wide stewardship plan for its 65-acre campus (1865); and
  • Voorhees College (Denmark, South Carolina) to develop a campus-wide stewardship plan for its 380 acre campus (1897).

“The Shaw University community expresses its sincerest appreciation to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for awarding the campus a $150,000 planning grant,” said Shaw University President Paulette Dillard, “to assist our efforts in preserving African American history. From educating the former enslaved to graduating some of the first African American doctors to helping ignite the civil rights movement, the legacy of Shaw University is woven into the fabric of American history. Preserving the treasures of our historic buildings extends the powerful narrative that describes the indelible contributions of this university.”

In addition to the planning grant, each HBCU awardee will receive resources for a paid student professional development opportunity, enabling one student from each campus to work alongside the project team of architects, engineers, and consultants. This support is provided through the Initiative. These paid positions will support building a more diverse and equitable field of African American preservationists.

“Florida A&M University is the third oldest campus in the State University System of Florida,” said Florida A&M President Dr. Larry Robinson. “We appreciate the support of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assist the University in furthering preservation of landmark buildings on our campus. The planning grant will allow the faculty, staff, and students across the disciplines of architecture, engineering and the humanities to collaborate in ways that highlight the national impact of Johnathan C. Gibbs, Lucy Moten and Andrew Carnegie and the buildings named in their honor. They also will help preserve the history of the Civil Rights Movement on our campus where iconic figures like Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson, and others changed American history.”

Since their founding in the 1830s, the number of HBCUs has grown to 105 Congressionally designated schools that tell the remarkable story of African American activism and the fight for education equality. These campuses and landscapes—many of which were designed and built by African American architects and students—display beauty, ingenuity, and craftsmanship, and serve as landmarks in their communities. Since listing HBCUs in the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1998, the National Trust has advocated and worked to strengthen the stewardship capacity of HBCUs, while also raising national awareness of their significance.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and with the support of its partners, aims to grow the leadership and preservation capacity of HBCUs, which steward some of the most diverse and exceptional historic assets in the world.

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism. Visit

By: Brenda Jones; National Trust for Historic Preservation

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